Practice · · 4 min read

How I Turned My Pixelbook Into a Creative Writing Machine

Four easy steps to transform an old laptop into a dedicated writing tool.

How I Turned My Pixelbook Into a Creative Writing Machine

Four easy steps to transform an old laptop into a dedicated writing tool.

Sometime in the Spring, as I was working through a writing course, I got on Twitter to aimlessly express my wish for a writing tool that lay somewhere in between paper and computers — something faster than writing, but without the distractions inherent in a machine with a display and keyboard.

In the replies, a longtime Twitter mutual suggested trying an electronic typewriter. My brain immediately lit up with the image (and, more importantly, sound) of the electric typewriter in our house when I was a kid. I pictured myself, in my own living room, clacking away at the keys while the typewriter’s motor droned. I then pictured my neighbors knocking on the door to politely ask what was going on. But, after a few minutes of Googling, I discovered something else: portable word processors.

I dived down the rabbit hole on specialized typing hardware — old and new, LCD and E Ink, even a portable word processor that folds three times to fit in your pocket, like a writer’s answer to the Nintendo DS.

But I wasn’t even sure if I could commit to writing enough to justify buying something just for the task, much less a $600 something. So I wanted to find a solution that would be a good test of resolve. My attention turned to my Pixelbook.

In the past, I used my Pixelbook at the office for meetings. It’s light enough to tote around NYC’s labyrinthine Google campus, and capable enough to take great notes (or to secretly work on stuff in Figma during a long meeting). Since the beginning of the pandemic, it had just been hanging around my apartment doing nothing. Maybe this was the new lease on life it needed!

I found a way to successfully transform the Pixelbook into a focused writing machine for myself, so I wanted to share the steps I took in case you, too, are looking for a way to write more using something you may already have.

1️⃣ Make a new Google account

This is a step I took just to make sure I wasn’t distracted, even by my other files in Google Drive. By creating a separate Google account, I can have a Drive that only contains my writing projects, and only gets used on my Pixelbook. I can’t start digging through old photos or Illustrator files (that probably belong in the trash rather than junk-drawer “archive” folders) if there simply aren’t any files around!

How to do it:

Just visit this page and go through the account creation process.

2️⃣ Powerwash your Pixelbook

Since I had previously been using my Pixelbook for work, I needed to do a factory reset before I could set it up as my writing device. This way, the device wouldn’t be connected to any corporate resources and would be fully managed by me. On Chromebooks, this reset process is called a “powerwash.”

How to do it:

  1. First, sign out of your Chromebook.
  2. Press and hold Ctrl + Alt + Shift + R.
  3. Select “Restart.”
  4. In the box that appears, select “Powerwash” and “Continue.”

3️⃣ Set up the Pixelbook again

Now it was time to set up the Pixelbook again, making sure to keep distractions away as I went. I wanted to set up an environment that would be distraction-free on this machine, but easily accessible on my other machines so I could manage the content I was creating from anywhere.

How to do it:

  1. Sign in with the new Google account.
  2. In Google Drive, create a folder where all your writing will live. You can make more subfolders and stuff later.
  3. Share edit access for that folder with your main Google account so you can manage your projects on other machines when you need to.
  4. Uninstall everything you can from the Chromebook, except the browser and Docs. You can do this by opening the app tray and two-finger-clicking on each icon to see if you can uninstall it.
  5. Go to and click on the hamburger menu. Select “Settings” and make sure the “Offline” toggle is turned on. This way, you can keep writing offline. (I learned the importance of this after taking a train ride with no Wi-Fi.)

4️⃣ No, really, get rid of distractions

When you are connected to the internet on your new writing machine, it’ll still be really easy to get distracted — not by files in Drive or unnecessary apps, but by the internet itself. I wanted to make sure that my experience was limited just to the tools I really needed. To do this, I grabbed a special Chrome extension that could help block out… everything.

How to do it:

  1. Install Domain Whitelist to block out everything except writing stuff.
  2. Whitelist the bare minimum of domains to get Google Docs and the other services you need running. For me, the list looks like this:

On your own machine, you can update the whitelist as necessary. Personally, I kept the list too short to do things like look up research — I would rather do that on a different machine or with other materials at hand, leaving notes and sources for myself in the shared Drive folder to return to later.

That’s it! It turned out to be surprisingly easy to create a focused experience for writing, especially since I was lucky enough to have an extra piece of hardware already lying around, out of commission since the beginning of the pandemic. My solution won’t be perfect for everyone, but it was great to find an alternative to buying more hardware that I might not even end up using.

Since this setup, I keep the Pixelbook in a separate room in my apartment — separate from where I typically work, and definitely separate from where I sleep. I don’t track my writing, but I try to sit down and write a couple thousand words a few times a week, and so far it works.

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